Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What are we celebrating?

"Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me 
receives the one who sent me.

                                     Matthew 10:40

I’ve always struggled when planning music for weekends such as this.  My training tells me that we celebrate the 13th Sunday of ordinary time.  My heart tells me that patriotism is an important part of our cultural identity.  In the past I have found songs of patriotism and challenge.  Our hymnal provides several appropriate options.  As I first thought of this weekend’s music a different tack began to emerge. 

Today’s readings speak of welcoming the stranger.  The second Book of Kings tells a story of a woman and husband who are rewarded for welcoming the prophet Elisha.   In today’s gospel Jesus is clear about being welcoming and hospitable to those who come our way.

Let me share a little about the composer of two songs I have chosen for this weekend.  Isadore Israel Baline came to America when his family fled Russia to escape persecution in the late 19th century.  While you may not recognize his given name, you will most certainly know many of his compositions which include White Christmas and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Today we will be singing what is arguably Irving Berlin’s most famous songs; God Bless America.  I’ve chosen it because it is easy to sing, inspiring and unabashedly patriotic.  I’ve also chosen one of his other songs as a prelude.  The words were inspired by the very same persecution that brought Irving Berlin’s family to America.  You may be familiar with the ending as it is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

"The New Colossus"

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

This week's music:

Gathering:   Lift High The Cross 713
Offertory:   Many and One 415
Communion:   Like the Bread
Recessional: God Bless America

Here is a link to a wonderful article about our new Cardinal  

Wishing you a wonderful and safe holiday,



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

what I learned at church this week

One of my goals is to use this space to inform, teach and challenge.  This week I'd like to turn the tables and share an important lesson that I learned from you.

A primary role of the music director is to decide the overall direction of the liturgical music at the parish.  Here I am speaking globally rather than each individual song selection. I am confident in my ability to assess where a parish has been musically and plan a course for it's future.  It is something I have done successfully over my career.  

In some churches I simply chose to add new songs and styles to an existing parish repertoire.   At St. Mary's I chose a different tack making more sweeping changes. 

I usually pick music for blocks of time and try to vary musical styles both over time and on a given weekend.   This week you will hear songs written in these styles:

  • The folk music of the mid 1970's
  • The gospel style of the early 20th century
  • contemporary Catholic praise music 
  • 20th century Christian hymnody

Note:  look at the small print on the bottom of the page of each of today's 4 hymns to see this in more detail.

For the most part I pick songs that fit the liturgy and that I like (to some degree) musically, textually or both.  But what about songs that I don't necessarily like?  Herein lies the lesson.

A few weeks ago I selected "How Great Thou Art" as the communion hymn.  Please don't take offense, nor get hung up on the fact that this hymn does not move me.  

What is important is that it moves many of you.  You made this known in the spirited way in which you sang.  Thank you. 

Let me conclude by reflecting the lesson back. (A kind of what we learned today about church music).

The song that touches you might do nothing for the person sitting next to you and the song that you dislike might be their favorite. (and vice versa)

Blessed to be your music director,


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Corpus Christi

Today we celebrate the final of three feasts that follow the Easter season.  Here are a few facts about the Solemnity of Corpus Christi or The Body and Blood of Christ:
  • Corpus Christi was instituted in 1264 at the direction of Pope Urban IV
  • The initial idea is attributed to St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon who envisioned a celebration of the Eucharist on a less somber day than Holy Thursday (the day the Jesus instituted the Eucharist in the last supper.)
  • Corpus Christi centers on the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and the church (remember, we are the body of Christ).
  • In the section on Sacraments in the church's catechism, the Eucharist is subtitled: "The source and summit of ecclesial (Christian) life
Today's first reading highlights the connection between the Eucharist and the manna which sustained the Israelites in the desert. You may recognize verse 3 as Jesus' response to Satan during the temptation in the wilderness.  In the gospel from John 6, Jesus instructs his disciples on the life-giving nature of His body and blood both in this life and in the next.

I've chosen today's music in hopes that it will touch upon the various elements of this most special day.

Our prelude is a composition by the contemporary Christian artist Twyla Paris titled "How Beautiful."  You can find a recording by the artist accompanied by a slideshow if you go to the parish webpage at www.stmarysnutley.org and click on liturgical notes.

The text of the gathering hymn, In This Place (#308) expresses the hungers that we as individuals and a community experience.  We come to the table and are sustained by the same God who provided manna to the Israelites as they wandered through the desert.

The sequence which follows the second reading is one of only four songs of praise remaining from the early church.  The words were written by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Our offertory song "Vine and Branches" (#360) highlights the relationship between Jesus and God as described in the gospel of John.  The liturgical commentator Elaine Rendler suggests this as an appropriate song on this day when we honor out earthly fathers.  As I’ve practiced and prayed the words, I’ve thought of Jesus preparing to leave his disciples in the context of what I would want to say to my children if I knew I were leaving them. I am particularly struck by the final verse which is inspired by Jesus’ command to love one another:  and now as I have washed your feet, so you must do just as I have done.

As we sing our final hymn “Faith of Our Fathers” (#486) let us not forget the faithful priests who have led the church, particularly our church over these past 140 years.

Wishing you a blessed summer,


Friday, June 9, 2017

Holy Trinity

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  It is the second of the three Sundays that follow the Easter Season.  The gospel begins with a familiar verse:   

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  John 3:16  

The first reading, which for the past 8 weeks has come from the Acts of the Apostles, is taken from the book of Exodus.  In this reading we find Moses on Mount Sinai with the two tablets on which he will inscribe the 10 commandments.

As I sit here thinking of what to write next; frustration sets in.  There are so many prerequisites to grasping the significance of these stories.  Their being placed together adds to this significance.  I suspect anyone preaching today shares similar questions.  

* Where do I begin?  
* What do I cover?  
* What do I leave for another time?

Liturgical music to the rescue!   

My answer to this dilemma can be found in the juxtaposition of our prelude and processional hymn.

The refrain to Marty Haugen’s “For God So Loved the World” centers on today’s scripture.  Here's a link to the words: Be sure to bottom.
The verses refer to an event recorded in the Book of Numbers where…the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” Numbers 2:5

God responds in anger and sends a particularly venomous type of snake (called a seraph) that bites many of the Israelites.  Realizing that they have sinned, the people come to Moses who intercedes on their behalf.  God tells Moses to make the bronze seraph mounted on a pole and whoever looks on it is saved from death and recovers from the bites . 

This leads me to our processional hymn Lift High The Cross    

Consider for a moment the connection between the saving pole with the seraph and the saving Cross of Christ.

This leaves one important thing for me to cover:   

Today’s celebration of the Most Holy Trinity.  Look for references to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in today’s liturgy.  It will be the very first thing the presider says as he greets us in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   

It will be part of the closing blessing and will occur in many of today’s prayers.    

Each verse of our recessional hymn O God Almighty Father centers on a different person of the Trinity.    

In thanksgiving and memory of Fr. Dominic Schiraldi, who in 1977 took a chance by hiring a fifteen year old to be music director.


It's always good to see old friends.
St. Mary's is located at      17 Monsignor Owens Place
                                           Nutley NJ 07110

I'm playing this Sunday at 9 - 10:30 - 12

Saturday, June 3, 2017

It Was The Best of Times

It was the best of times…..

For the past 7 weeks we have been hearing about the growth of Christianity during the days following the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As I read these stories I am reminded of Charles Dickens classic opening line from A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times: 

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers….they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need….Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes… And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.           
                                                                                    Acts chapter 2

It was the worst of times:

There was an intense pushback against the Christian community.    In a section in Acts called “signs and wonders” people are being healed after placing themselves in Peter’s shadow.  This causes the Jewish authorities to throw the apostles into jail.  Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr.  

Today’s readings

While Luke simply tells us the apostles “were all in one place together” the gospel of John discloses a critical piece of additional information:  The doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear…     John 20:19

Life in these best and worst of times

As I prepared to write this article (the deadline was this past Monday) my yahoo feed led me to Pope Francis’ response to the massacre of Coptic Christians in Egypt.  After pointing out that there are more martyrs for the faith today than in ancient times the Holy Father prayed; “May the Lord welcome these courageous witnesses, these martyrs, in his peace and convert the hearts of the violent ones.

How will the Spirit lead us to respond to the times in which we live?
This weekend we come together as a parish community to celebrate the coming of the same Spirit that gave birth to and has sustained the church for almost 2000 years.  On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon we witness and celebrate this in a particular way as member s of our community (adults and teens) receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.

What will be critical piece of information that describes our gathering? 

Will it be a fear similar to that of the disciples on that first Pentecost?  Perhaps it will be more like what Pope Francis described in a sermon last Sunday.  The Holy Father noted that for many people, their days are spent running between work and various commitments. The risk with this is that “we can get lost, close in on ourselves and become restless about nothing.”

As you look through this bulletin, consider finding yourself in and becoming restless about something.  It might be as simple as coming to daily mass or returning to mass next week.   It might be rereading one of the segments of the Acts of the Apostles from today.  It might be getting involved in our efforts in the Nutley Care Kitchen.  Our response will be to the critical piece of information that describes this gathering.

Blessed to be in ministry at St. Mary’s


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